Even if you do everything right when building a healthy garden, pests inevitably show up. But managing your garden with a thoughtful, proactive approach helps prevent pests from doing serious damage. Integrated Pest Management (IPM) combines different types of controls — from hands-on pest removal to traditional synthetic pesticides — in a sensible, long-term plan. Designing your own program around proven IPM principles can help protect your garden and keep it healthy.

Balancing Pest Controls in Your Garden

Four main categories of pest controls form IPM's foundation: cultural, biological, mechanical/physical and pesticide controls. The four work hand in hand to provide targeted, effective, long-term pest management, and each category plays a special role.

Cultural Controls

Cultural pest controls start with the decisions you make when choosing and caring for plants. Prevention is your first line of defense; healthy, nurtured plants resist pests and diseases better than weak, unhealthy plants. Cultural controls in good IPM programs include these simple recommendations:

Choose plants suited to your area and its challenges. Arid, drought-prone regions, for example, call for water-wise plants with low moisture needs.

Select disease- and pest-resistant plant varieties. Plants proven to withstand your region's most common pests hold up better under attack.

Plant at appropriate times. In many regions, fall is prime planting time. Fall and winter planting allow roots to establish before summer heat arrives. This is especially important in southern or western regions. In far northern climates, spring planting is often best for plants with less cold hardiness.

Choose proper sites. Plants have more problems and fail to thrive in inappropriate conditions. For example, sun-loving plants are more vulnerable to pests and other problems when planted in shady areas, and vice versa.

Maintain lawn and garden tools. Sharp mower blades and proper mowing heights lead to healthier lawns. Sharp, sterile pruners help prevent the spread of disease.

Avoid overhead watering. Some leaf diseases, such as common garden fungal diseases or black spot on roses, spread with the help of water. Water the soil at the base of plants, instead of watering leaves.

Water in early morning. If leaves do get wet, they'll dry thoroughly before evening.

Test your soil pH. A simple soil test reveals adjustments that can help your soil's structure and nutrients, so you can feed plants right. Knowing what your plants need — and providing all they require — gives you the upper hand over pests. Simple, common-sense cultural controls are integral to good IPM.

Biological Controls

All pests, from weeds and insects to diseases, have natural enemies. A balanced pest management program conserves, supports and encourages those foes. Biological IPM controls include:

Predator insects: Parasitic wasps lay their eggs on and in their living targets. Eggs hatch, and then feed inside the pest. A mummified aphid with a round hole in its back is evidence that parasitic wasps have been at work.

Parasitic insects: Plants proven to withstand your region's most common pests hold up better under attack.

• Biological pathogens: Bacillus thuringiensis, also known as Bt, is a soil-borne bacterium that fights mosquitoes and insects in the larval, caterpillar stage. This and other pathogens are effective biological pesticides for very specific pests.